Birth Story: Arabella's Vaginal Breech Birth at St James' Hospital, Leeds
Updated: Sep 27, 2023
They (the doctors and midwives) commented afterwards that my room was the calmest on the floor that night.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter I felt anxious about the prospect of giving birth. Fortunately, I’d also heard about hypnobirthing and the benefits and positive birthing experiences people who had practiced it had. I found a lovely teacher in my area offering a private one to one course. My husband, Martin, and I went along, he didn’t have a clue what I had signed us up for, but he was fully supportive (and ended up very much enjoying falling asleep on a stranger’s sofa each week during the relaxations). After the first session I left feeling excited to give birth, not something I had really anticipated. I realised even though it sounds a bit airy-fairy, it was actually really scientific and essentially a shed load of common sense. The understanding of how my mind, body and baby worked together during labour and birth gave me so much confidence. I understood I had choices regarding how I birthed my baby and build my birth relaxation tool kit as well as my trust in my own body and instinct.
This confidence in my body’s abilities was bolstered following a conversation with my 96-year-old grandmother. She had birthed her three children some 57+ years earlier in Borneo, Trinidad and Egypt, and described all her births positively saying “they all walked out before lunchtime”. She told me in preparation for her births she had read Grantly Dick-Read’s book Childbirth Without Fear. He was an obstetrician in the mid 1900’s, who wrote about Fear – Tension – Pain cycle theory. When I read my hypnobirthing book, Dick-Read was referenced, and I had a lightbulb moment “well if it worked for Nanna, it can work for me”.
Hello Breech Baby:
My pregnancy was relatively straightforward and at the 20-week scan appointment, my daughter was very happily sat on her bum with her legs extended up in front of her face. A position she quite comfortably remained in until birth. This is called a frank breech position. Importantly, a baby being bum down at 20-weeks doesn’t mean they baby will be breech at term, there is still plenty of space and time for baby to turn head down, and sometimes babies will turn in labour. It is also important to note, that breech isn’t what some may refer to as “the wrong position” it is rare, about 4% of babies are breech presenting at birth, but it can more helpfully be referred to as ‘a variation of normal’.
Encouraging my breech baby to turn head down:
As my pregnancy progressed, she appeared to be very comfortable in her streamlined bum down legs up position and it became more apparent that maybe she might need a little encouragement to turn head down. During this time, I read up on my options for birth, working out what my own personal route of least stress was and what would be best for me and my baby, my options appeared to be a planned caesarean section birth or spontaneous vaginal birth.
I found the Breech Birth UK Facebook group hugely helpful as it enabled me to talk to other mothers who had experienced a similar situation and asses my options, talking to them about their experiences. I also found the Spinning Babies website an excellent source of information, I burnt Moxibustion sticks and laid upside down on my ironing board to encourage her to turn, but she was apparently quite comfortable and happy how she was and maintained her breech position. I also had an External Cephalic Version (ECV) at the LGI hospital at 38+3 weeks. The obstetrician used her hands on my belly to manually manipulate my baby to turn head down, it wasn’t a totally comfortable procedure, but listening to my hypnobirthing tracks and focusing on my breathing really helped. After 20 minutes of trying, the obstetrician said she had been able to turn my daughter, but when she moved her hand, my daughter flipped straight back. She said I was coping very well and she could keep trying, or see if another obstetrician might be able to try, I declined. I had been hopeful it would work, but it was a 50/50 chance of success with an ECV.
I felt deflated and emotional after the unsuccessful ECV. Personally, for me the thought of a planned surgery was more stressful than a spontaneous labour. I then had a very open, unbiased, conversation with the obstetrician about my options and she gave me the benefits and risks of both caesarean section and vaginal birth, and gave me a week to think about my options, which I appreciated.
Onset of Spontaneous Labour:
“that was the calmest voicemail you’ve ever left, hypnobirthing obviously works”
It appeared my daughter knew what she wanted and at 39+1 weeks, before my next consultant appointment, after a lovely lunch with a friend, I woke up from a nap around 4pm and went to the loo, I then felt the need to go to the loo again, and again, it was then a realised my waters had released in a trickle, and I was not in fact wetting myself! Thank goodness! I felt calm and excited! My contractions followed about an hour later. I started timing them and called the midwife who asked me to go into hospital. As my baby was breech, I asked if I would be sent home again and she said no. I understood increasing my oxytocin levels would help labour progress and didn’t feel any urgency to rush in so I made myself some pasta to eat (carb loading!), downloaded some funny films onto my iPad, to get the oxytocin flowing in hospital, and printed off my birth preferences (which I hadn’t actually finished writing – I’d recommend being a little more organised if possible! Haha!) I called Martin at work and left a voicemail, he said to me later “that was the calmest voicemail you’ve ever left, hypnobirthing obviously works”. After another couple of hours, we headed to the hospital.
Walking into St James (Jimmy's) Hospital I had a wobble, I suddenly wondered if I was doing the right thing opting for a vaginal birth as my first option. Martin calmly reassured me that I was informed, and this is what I knew was right for me and our baby, I needed to hear that. We arrived in the Maternity Assessment Centre (MAC) and the midwife performed a vaginal examination (VE) to check my cervix dilation, I remember constantly apologising to her that I was leaking fluid everywhere and making a mess! She was lovely, of course, she was used to all that. A registrar then did an ultrasound scan to check the fluid level and confirm baby’s position was still breech, which it was. Following the scan, she advised in this situation they would recommend a caesarean section. I said I had discussed the options with the consultant, I understood my birth might evolve into an unplanned caesarean and I was most comfortable to proceed with a vaginal birth as my first option, she then recommended epidural pain relief which I also said I didn’t want as a first option and she replied “you seem very well informed, good luck” and left us to it.
During my pregnancy I had remained active, walking a minimum 4 miles a day to and from work as well as doing Pilates and swimming. Early labour was no different, I stayed as mobile as possible, walking around the hospital grounds and in time moved to a more private room which I made my own, ensuring it was dark and putting on my playlist. As labour progressed the midwives advised continuous monitoring of baby, which I agreed to, so I was attached to a cardiotocography (CTG) machine and laid on a bed on my back. I had a maximum of 3 contractions laid on my back and they were so painful; my whole body shook. Needless to say, I didn’t stay laid on my back much longer. I got off the bed and was instantly more comfortable, my contractions didn’t take over my whole body when I wasn’t laid flat on my back. I had another VE and had progressed to 7cm in MAC unit, and transferred to the delivery suite where baby had wireless monitoring and I could be more active and mobile. I made the room my safe space again, making it dark and playing my music. This time I didn’t lie on the bed, instead using it to lean over while I sat on a birth ball and Martin did soft touch massage. I had some paracetamol for pain relief, although I’m not 100% sure it did anything and I also used gas and air, but it made me vomit and I think it threw off my breath, I was blowing out instead of inhaling the gas and biting hard on the mouth piece instead of having a relaxed jaw. Martin told me does think it helped though.
"I wouldn’t describe my birth as easy, it was work, it took effort, the sensations were intense... but the hypnobirthing techniques helped me to remain calm and manage well."
When it came to pushing her out I was on the bed, on all fours this time, leaning over the raised head of the bed. I had the pushing urge and went with it. The midwife told me my baby was moving down but she kept moving back up the birth canal. I was reaching a stinging point and didn’t want to push any further, the midwife told me I needed to push through the stinging pain to get her down and she would stop going back up. There was a point before she was born where I suddenly felt scared, like I couldn’t do it anymore, I was filled with fear and doubt, I was tired and I wondered why I hadn’t opted for a caesarean birth as my first option. Then I remembered this was completely normal, I had been taught about this in my hypnobirthing course. This fear was a normal surge of adrenaline and meant I would soon be meeting my baby. Martin was right next to me and I was holding his hand, a little too tight, he might say. I pushed my baby down and out. She was born bum first, while I was knelt on the bed. There was a little time between contractions to birth her head while she sat like a little buddha on the bed. The medical team were there and ready to render any assistance, if it was needed, but it wasn’t. With the next contraction her head was born at 39+2 weeks gestation, 3:41am at the start of a lovely summer day, weighing 6lb 14oz. I rolled onto my back, gratefully now, to see my daughter, who was handed to me for skin to skin, and said to Martin “It’s Arabella!”, she was beautiful, I was so proud, I had done it, we had done it, together, she was here! We were a family!
After she was born she was checked over by the doctors and she was perfectly healthy. The midwife then said I needed to birth the placenta. A bit of me thought “What! Are you kidding, I just birthed a human! no more” but it was fine. I had skin to skin with Arabella, minimal blood loss and no need for an oxytocin injection. The midwife checked to see where the placenta was, it appeared Arabella had been wearing it like a hat, as her head was covered in blood, and with another contraction I pushed out the placenta. The beautiful organ that had nourished my baby during her time inside me. The midwife then checked for any tears, and I was fortunate to not have any, maybe doing that perineum massage in late pregnancy had paid off?
I wouldn’t describe my birth as easy, it was work, it took effort, the sensations were intense. There were points I questioned whether having a surgical birth would have been easier, but the hypnobirthing techniques helped me to remain calm and manage well. Hypnobirthing also gave Martin a focus on how to effectively support me during birth, as well as during pregnancy when I was making informed decisions. I practiced and put in the work before birth, it gave me confidence in my bodies natural ability and in trusting myself and my own instinct. I was fully supported by my care team, including two midwives, a student midwife and two doctors (an obstetrician for me and a paediatrician for Arabella – just in case).
They commented afterwards that my room was the calmest on the floor that night. I knew I had established my route of least stress, that my birth may evolve into a plan B and I was comfortable with that. As it was, plan A seemed to work just fine for Arabella and I. My post birth recovery was good, I suspect easier than if I had had a surgical birth, and I was extremely keen to return to the comfort of home as soon as possible. We were discharged from the post-natal ward having shown we could breastfeed (sort of), and after much pestering, later that day. I was glad to get home about 9pm and into my own bed where we all had a reasonable sleep. I also had a very settled new born baby, maybe she enjoyed the hypnobirthing as much as I did.
It is 5 ½ years now since my lovely breech birth, and I can honestly say I had a positive birth experience. I feel much of that came from getting informed, practice before birth, remaining healthy and active in pregnancy as well as taking time to work out what felt like the best option for me and my baby. It is something that is completely individual and no one can ever tell you what is best for you. For some, a planned surgical birth is the least stressful, and therefore best option, for others a spontaneous option is, it is about looking at your individual situation, getting informed and working out what is best for you and your baby and feeling supported in that decision.
I wish you a beautiful, positive birth experience, whatever you chose, and however it evolves.
If you'd like to talk about how hyopnobirhting can help you and your birth partner throughout pregnancy and during labour and birth, do get in touch.
I'm always happy to chat.
If you want more information for Breech presenting babies, I have attached some links here for you: